Tamasha was a financial flop. That’s a fact and no one can dispute that. People watched it. They didn’t like it because they didn’t connect with it. And since they didn’t like Imtiaz Ali’s experiment, they didn’t spread the word of its arrival at the theatre and it slipped away from every screen in India like sand through our fingers. But a handful of viewers were left riveted by what they had witnessed right before their eyes. They were transformed and compelled to sing praises about the saga of Ved and Tara, and Ali’s ability to deconstruct the stereotypes that are plaguing our lives and society. I am one of those people and on Tamasha’s four-year anniversary, I am here to talk about how the movie convinced me to take the path less traveled.
So, here’s a little (more) history. Tamasha was Imtiaz’s third movie about self-discovery. In Jab We Met he had stripped down the character of Aditya Kashyap to its bare minimum and built him from scratch to give us a message about how you can redefine yourself even when you’re at your worst. In Rockstar, he had shown the painstaking process of finding inspiration for a profession you’re interested in through Janardhan Jhakar’s journey. So, by the time he wanted to tell Ved’s story and shout at the top of his lungs that he has perfected the thematic throughline in his movies, it was deemed a cliche and a joke. Stand-up comedian Aakash Mehta even said in one of his performances that by telling people to leave their jobs and pursue their dreams, he (and Ranbir Kapoor) were fooling everybody. But how can that be true when me (and many others) are a living testament of rejecting the stereotypes we were being caged into?
“Wahi kahaani fir ek baar, majnu ne liye kapde faad, maar tamasha beech bazaar
Ruk ke socha, aisa kyun? Aisa waisa jaisa taisa paisa. Paisa!
Paisa na hota toh fir kaisa hota. Socho.
Arre chodo boring baatein saari, mast raho, jamke khao.
Lelo pange, chad lo suli, phad do kapde, khol do bandhan,
Ghol do lassi, bol do kissa, sabhi jano ka dil behlao, shor machao, maaro thumka.
Phek bikhero mann ki chandi, dil ka sona, ankh ki moti, sab arpit hai, aapke khaatir.
Main naukar hu aapka maalik, tie pehenke, lift pe chadkar, phir aaunga aapke angan,
Wahi karunga. Jo roz kiya hai. Woh firse karunga, firse karunga, firse karunga.
Achha beta? Kabhi idhar toh kabhi udhar. Andar kya hai? Andar kya hai?
Kaunse rang ka dil hai tera, kya chahta hai?
Bolo? Jawab do!”
Ved’s story about enrolling in an engineering course even if he doesn’t have any understanding or interest in engineering isn’t something new. It’s a phenomenon that’s happening every day in India. When you don’t have an iota of self-confidence because you’ve lived an overly sheltered life where everything has been provided to you, leading to a general stagnation in the development of your intelligence, you choose the easiest way out. No, you’re not forced into it. There’s no wild conspiracy to make you an engineer. It’s the most accessible route and one that gives your parents a semblance of solace that ha abb toh beta kuch kar lega. However, the sad part is that nobody tells you what happens to this under-achiever after that. But Tamasha shows it very harshly. You’re turned into this robot who is neither nor there. Your skills are limited to calculating who’s the most beneficial relationship to take you up the social or professional ladder. And even if there’s something inside you, you are too ashamed to show it because you have invested so much in that charade.
“Kya chakkar hai?
Kahan chala hai dil ka rasta bin kadmo ke?
Door khadi sapno ki mallika.
Hoti ret hai, lagta paani.
Uske liye main papad belun?
Do kaudi ki hasti hai, par usse khelun?
Fenk bikherun apna sab kuch uski khatir?!
Kisse chahiye mann ka sona, aankh ke moti?
Kisse padhi hai andar kya hai?”
One of the most important aspects that Tamasha presents very viscerally is how the lack of self-confidence leads to oodles of self doubt. As seen in Ved’s life, he his so over-dependent on his job that he starts thinking that it is his identity, and anything or anyone who questions it is his enemy. That’s why the reaction to it is vigorously defensive and borderline psychopathic. How do I know that? Because I’ve been there. Throughout my engineering days, I have defended my decision to be there. And whenever someone has questioned my future in that field, I have reacted angrily because I had no real answer and had no idea what I am going to do. I knew that somewhere deep inside me, there was an urge to speak up and to express myself. To tell stories. To examine stories told in films and TV shows, re-contextualise them and help people appreciate them. But that felt like a far-fetched dream. It seemed unattainable and too daunting of a task to think about, let alone attempt it. What was the alternative? Keep your head down and go wherever the crowd is going.
“Darrta hai? Darr lagta hai?
Apni kahaani mujh se puch raha hai! Kaayar!
Kisse darrta hai? Hai kaun yahan?
Tu bata kya hota hai aage. Bata.
Bol apni kahaani hai.
Kya hai tere dil ke andar?
Chahta kya hai tu?
Dil mein heer liye, aur heer khoje veerane mein.
“Ye apna hero hai. Isne bhi management, lagan, engineering, office, system.
Ha bolo, neeche dekho, khush ho jao. Main ruk nahi sakta. Ruka toh mar jaunga.
Issi race mein bhagta rahunga. Mediocre banunga. Average.
Aur iss tarah apna hero issi race mein bhagta raha aur ek din marr gaya.
Kahaani khatam. Toh kaisi lagi kahaani.
Ending kharab hai? Ending sahi nahi hai.
Toh koi baat nahi. Apni kahaani hai. Ending change kar denge.”
I lied. Conforming is not the alternative. There is another route. In that route you have to follow your dream. Yes, yes, that’s cliched as f*ck and you have heard it hundreds and thousands of times! But what those people haven’t told you, probably, is that the amount of effort you have to put in order to turn your hobby into a full-fledged profession. Tamasha shows it through a montage, so it’s possible that transition from Ved telling a story in front of his parents to telling a story in front of an auditorium full of people might feel effortless. However, if you take a look at the subtitles showing the time that has passed, you can imagine how much he must have laboured. And if you still can’t believe it, here’s me telling you from personal experience that it will take years and years of confusion, depression, sweat, tears, and blood, but if you want to do what you want to do, you will succeed. I mean I thought that that seat at a private bank interview was the end of my story. I know that’s not as beautiful and wholesome as Deepika Padukone’s Tara coming into Ved’s life. But one look at the people sitting in those glass cabins kind of had the same effect and it motivated me to do what I really wanted to do. The pay wasn’t good initially. Everyone doubted me. Everyone said that I should follow writing as a hobby and nothing else. Yet, here I am.
In conclusion, I want to say is that it might take you a long time to realise who you are and what you are capable of. But don’t give up. I didn’t and I thank Imtiaz Ali and his vision in Tamasha for unintentionally helping me realise my self worth. Discover yourself. If you don’t like it, re-discover yourself and I am certain that the fruits of your labour will be sweeter than anything you’ve ever had in your life.